With its hopes for a Women's World Cup berth suddenly in doubt, Abby Wambach and the rest of the U.S. national soccer team decided to go back to what they knew best Monday. And those efforts were rewarded with a 3-0 victory over Costa Rica that moved the Americans a big step closer to qualifying for next summer's tournament in Germany.
"We went back to the old school, old American way," Wambach said. "Work ethic, work hard, defend together and the attack just worked itself out."
The U.S., ranked No. 1 in the world, went into the match in danger of missing the World Cup for the first time, having been denied a direct berth to the 2011 tournament after last week's stunning loss to Mexico in the semifinals of the CONCACAF qualifying tournament in Cancun, Mexico. That left the U.S. needing a win over Costa Rica to advance to a two-match playoff with Italy later this month for the 16th and final World Cup spot.
And the physical Americans served notice they weren't going to let this opportunity slip away, smothering the young Ticas in the midfield to take early control of the match.
Lauren Cheney got the scoring started in the 17th minute, taking a pass at the top of the 18-yard box and, with a striker on either side, drilling a low shot off a defender and around keeper Dinnia Diaz for a 1-0 lead.
Lori Lindsey set up the first of Wambach's two goals in the 33rd minute with perhaps the best play of the game, threading an arching 30-yard pass just in front of a charging Diaz. Wambach knocked the ball out of the air and past Diaz with her left foot to double the U.S. advantage.
Wambach closed the scoring in the opening minutes of the second half.
The Americans, two-time World Cup champions, now must prepare for a home-and-home series with Italy beginning Nov. 20 near Venice. The second game will be in suburban Chicago a week later, with the final World Cup qualifier to be decided on aggregate goals.
Baxter reported from Los Angeles.